Simplifying permit application process in Hampton saves time, money

Tuesday, December 17, 2019 | 12:01 AM

Applications for certain business permits in Hampton may become easier, which could create some cost- and time-saving benefits for the applicant.

Township staff has been reviewing permitting and application steps in an effort to “streamline the process and make it easier and less costly in certain cases to apply for permits,” said Township Council President Mike Peters.

Presently, the township is trialing the process to conditional applications without exterior changes.

One business recently was able to take advantage of this new opportunity.

Amy McGinley of Fox Chapel submitted an application for Three Little Birds Cafe and Juice Bar, a proposed sit-down cafe on Middle Road next to her present business of a jewelry repair and retail sales business.

Amanda Gold-Lukas, land use administrator for Hampton, presented the interior-only conditional use application during a public hearing Dec. 4.

This business is in the space formerly known as The Quilt Shop and in a Neighborhood Commercial zoning district and would require an interior-only conditional use approval, said Gold-Lukas.

Normally, conditional-use applications require the applicant to employ an engineer to draw up a new site plan, as well as the establishment of an escrow account in the amount of $2,000 to cover the cost of having an engineer prepare a site plan to document the property’s existing conditions.

However, since the building is existing and no exterior site improvements were required, Gold-Lukas consulted with the township manager on implementing the new streamline process, which would work for this type of application.

Gold-Lukas was able to use aerial imagery to confirm that the property’s existing conditions met the Zoning Ordinance’s requirements for parking, buffer yards, lighting, and landscaping.

The applicant would still require a public hearing and approval by the planning commission, public notice and approval by township council, she said. This new type of “interior-only” conditional use application would only be available on a case-by-case basis. The fee for the application would be the same.

But, nonetheless, it’s a step in making the application process more user-friendly. The application fee would remain the same.

“For the applicant, it’s a benefit because they don’t have to employ an engineer to draw up a new site plan or provide $2,000 up-front for the required escrow account, which are both big cost savings. For the township, it’s a benefit because it will make it easier for both residential and commercial property owners to use their land how they want to,” said Gold-Lukas.

“We’re also hopeful that it will help encourage commercial development to bring new businesses to vacant lots, which is something that we’ve heard is a priority for the township’s residents,” said Gold-Lukas.

The township receives about two conditional-use applications per year, but McGinley’s is the first interior-only type they’ve received, said Gold-Lukas. But, if the process is streamlined, this could be a more frequent occasion.

“However, this number would likely be higher if the process was more affordable and easier to navigate, which is why we made this change,” she said.

“I am very happy that Amanda has shown the initiative and the ability to think outside of the box to come up with this new approach,” said Peters.

Gold-Lukas was hired as the land-use administrator following the retirement of Martin Orban in August, who formerly held the position. She’s been with the township since 2006.

The fee for a Non-residential Conditional Use is $1,000, plus $50 per acre, and there is a separate $2,000 escrow account required for the plan review and inspections, said Gold-Lukas.